Abres Los Ojos (1997) (R)

There's a lot going on in "Abres Los Ojos" or "Open Your Eyes". It's a movie that was re-introduced to an American audience as "Vanilla Sky" and it starred Penélope Cruz as the original did; but all that said, you don't really get a firm idea of what the film is really about. I'm not here to talk about plot or surrealism, in fact, I don't think it's possible to actually talk about a great deal of the film without accidentally divulging something.
The movie begins and introduces us to our main character: César (Eduardo Noriega). He's rich, good-looking, and a player. Rarely seen with the same woman twice, his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martínez) often makes comments about ruing both César's charm and his good looks.
But we know that something isn't right just from the first scene in which César strolls down a vacated street, wondering why it looks as if the apocalypse has come. Then he wakes up.
"Abres Los Ojos" is a movie about self, it's a movie about love, and it's a movie about impossibilities and dreams—paranoia and nightmares. There are times when director and writer Alejandro Amenábar makes the oddest seem malicious and the most innocuous, deadly. Yet the film is not supposed to terrify its viewer, and it does. It is poetry and it is also firm evidence that if you craft a movie with sincere emotions and powerful performances, you are able to get away with pretty much anything. 
César has wooed another girl who gets added to his collection; but this one seems to have her claws out. Her name is Nuria (Najwa Nimri) and she knows all the bedroom secrets that keep the boys coming back for more; but she doesn't use them for all the other boys...her eyes are set on César.
On his birthday party, César meets Pelayo's potential girlfriend, Sofía (Cruz), and is understandably drawn to her immediately.
Some awkward flirting and a few drinks later and he feels pretty good about his chances with the girl; but that isn't the end of the story...oh, no.
Taking a fairly innocent feeling setting (a party, an office, a club) and turning it over on its head, "Abres Los Ojos" is a puzzle-box true and true. It's a movie that you never truly know what to expect as it fades from one scene to the next. But this is also a slight downfall for the movie. It's oddity and drama is so strong (and so well handled, I might add) that it demands the tightest ending possible and sadly, we don't get that.
For a "third act reveal" flick (though I would argue that this hardly qualifies), "Abres Los Ojos" is a joy and a disappointment and a well-kept secret. Its fan base have tight lips and for that, I am very glad.
The real star of the movie is Noriega who makes us love and hate his playboy nature. He transforms, physically and emotionally and with each passing transformation he balances his two sides: the cocky rich boy and the unsure depressed creature.
A lot of the movie's success rides on the drama that paints itself onto the film. Yes, it's a thriller and yes, it's sometimes very sexy; but that doesn't match the simple repeated phrases that ring back through the movie like "Do you believe in God?" and "What is happiness for you?"
To the more attentive viewer, there are hundreds of little instances that make "Abres Los Ojos" a treasure-filled view. For everyone else, it's just a film worth seeing for its intrigue.
Yet after its all over, "Abres Los Ojos" is remembered not for its intense scenes, when hypnotism meets hallucinations, but for the loss of everything. Borrowing and paraphrasing from the film itself, while watching the movie, you are suspended in its emotion, even if that emotion is false. What hit me the hardest was how actually sad the movie is and how little hope there is to see. Dissatisfaction, that's the end of it all; but this is ironic because the end is also beautifully rendered and audaciously constructed.
As its final frames fade, what does "Abres Los Ojos" leave you with? Maybe just one more reminder: open your eyes.

Score: ★★★½

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